The Fresh Sheet…Eggplant

 

 

Eggplants.Desiree Nielsen RD

Eggplants are one of those vegetables that feel like summer to me but I am often at a loss for preparation ideas because my husband has an utter disdain for them! Serving gorgeous slabs of grilled eggplant won’t do unless I am willing to eat them all myself. A staple in mediterranean cuisine, eggplants have yet to really seduce us here in North America. But it’s worth giving eggplant another shot for its versatility and nutrition. With fall right around the corner, bringing these jewel-like beauties home will help extend the feeling of those long sun-drenched days (even if the only sunshine around is the artificial kind).

Eggplant.Peppers.DesireeNielsenRD

Preparation is key to enjoying eggplant’s charms – salting and resting the flesh will help to remove any bitterness that some might find unpleasant. It is also best to enjoy eggplant while they are fresh and in season…which is right now! Eggplant doesn’t just look pretty, it comes with plenty of nutrition to spare: eggplant is a source of soluble fibre to help stabilize blood sugars, lower cholesterol and soothe the digestive tract. It is also rich in manganese, an energizing mineral; potassium and magnesium protect the heart and potent antioxidant pigments give its skin that glossy dark purple colour.

When these little gems hit the farmers’ market, I too often give them a pass. So I was determined to find a recipe that would convince even an eggplant hater and I think we might have found it. This caponata pairs eggplants with their cousins, bell peppers and tomatoes for a savoury match made in heaven.

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Eggplant Caponata
Makes about one litre

Caponata is an Italian antipasti that is sweet, savoury and delicious – it takes time to make but will last through the week in the refrigerator to perk up any meal. It has a myriad of uses: try it as a sandwich spread, a pasta sauce, a topping for Bruschetta, layered in a casserole or as a sauce for proteins. We have paired it with grilled tofu in the photo but it would also be delicious with chicken or white fish.

3 cups cubed eggplant (about 2-3 small)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1- 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley leaves

Place cubed eggplant in a bowl and generously salt, tossing to coat the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse and pat dry.

In a large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat, then add onion and bell peppers; sauté until glossy and soft, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant and sauté for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and golden brown.

Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the juice from the plum tomatoes and then crush the plum tomatoes into the pan by hand, reserving the juice for adjusting the moisture of the dish later. Add the herbs, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper and garlic, stir and reduce to simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and if the mixture sticks or gets too dry, deglaze with a bit of the reserved tomato juice. Stir in the red wine vinegar, olives and parsley before serving.

One litre of caponata will make a large volume of appetizers or will comfortably serve 8 people as a pasta sauce or side dish for proteins.

The Fresh Sheet…Plums

This September couldn’t possibly get any better: the sun is shining, morning greets with an energizing crispness and the afternoons are still blazing hot. You almost forget that the rainy season is just around the corner as you laze around the park enjoying all that delicious late summer fruit. Of course, should the weather turn less than hospitable, you now have plenty of reason to bake. On one such day, I ventured over to my friend Melissa’s house to bake clafoutis.

There is an abundance of plums in early September and for most, this turn of events goes uncelebrated. Few wax lyrical about plums in the way you might about lush summer peaches or raspberries. They are not prescribed to keep the doctor away, as the apple. And because they arrive with so much bounty in our midst, it could be easy to give them a pass but I urge you to indulge when the time comes. Plums are subtle, their charms best coaxed out with a bit of attention. Even if it is just a bit of manchego and a drizzle of honey.

My friend Melissa has a beautiful food blog and so we thought it might be fun to spend a little time in the kitchen together (and then share the spoils with you!). I am not much of a baker, so I suggested we try our hand at clafoutis. It sounds quite fancy but clafoutis is actually a simple, rustic and cozy dessert (or breakfast. Who am I kidding?). With the texture of baked custard crossed with bread pudding, it is perfect for a rainy day, warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Plum Clafoutis

Melissa and I adapted the clafoutis recipe from the lovely Gluten Free Girl, who was in turn inspired by Julia Child’s original recipe. This is baking for the improvisateur: switch up the fruit, the flours…it will all work. Our first go-round was quinoa and almond flour but the quinoa is a bit earthy in flavour. For those well-accustomed to “earthy” flavours, it is a great gluten-free option. Oat flour was lovely and will definitely be a crowd pleaser if you are looking to avoid wheat. We also experimented with 3 large pears, poached in sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Perfect for when late summer turns to autumn.

Serves 6

3 cups plums, pitted and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (no artificial extracts, please!)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the prepared plums with the honey in a large bowl and let them marinate as you get the batter going.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Place the flours in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture into the flours until you have a smooth batter; it will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Grease a 7-8 cup (roughly 8 x 12 inch) baking dish or 9 inch pie plate with butter. The deeper and smaller the dish, the creamier the clafoutis. Scatter the honey-coated plums over the bottom of the dish. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden and crisped.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Growing Chefs! Going Local! Challenge Begins

 

There is nothing more local than patio produce! A very nice specimen of Portuguese Kale.

 

There is no time like the present to head to the farmer’s market or your local food grocer and buy yourself a basket full of local delicacies. Food will not get better than it is right now – so take full advantage! Thick slices of tomato, served with nothing more than a little salt and pepper; wild salmon or sablefish, served with roasted fennel and eggplant; local blueberries swirled into cold, creamy yogurt…need I go on?

Eating local in August is hardly a challenge…so why not take the Going Local! Challenge, in support of Growing Chefs?

Your mission is deliciously simple. Sign up on the Growing Chefs! website; ask friends, family and coworkers to donate to your campaign and then simply do your best to eat as close to 100 miles as possible from August 19 – 25.

With so many amazing options this month, it might be hard to narrow down what to put on your plate. To help you on your way, we have created a 2 day sample meal plan that incorporates traditional menu items with a little twist to allow you to enjoy your favorites while sticking to a 100 mile diet.

The meal ideas are very flexible, make substitutions based on what looks best at the store or farmer’s market. If you want to learn more about what is in season in the lower mainland, check out the Get Local Seasonal Food Chart. Every fruit or vegetable used below can also be substituted with anything you find at your local Farmers market, so feel free to be unique and create your very own meals. The fresh produce used in this plan follows the get local BC seasonal chart.

Get Local, Folks (aka start feasting!)

Day One

Breakfast

Berry Smoothie

Use a selection of fresh berries, yogurt, honey, a splash of milk and a few cubes of ice for a cold, crisp beverage. To make the smoothie more sweet and less thick, try using some BC melons, in season this month.

Snack– a handful of raw hazelnuts and dried fruit. Pick up Canadian hazelnuts at the farmers market near you. You can dry your own market-fresh fruit on low in the oven or with a dehydrator or pick up dried fruit from the market.

Lunch

Tuna sandwich and salad

Use canned tuna from Estevan Tuna or cook any fresh fish finds and mix with fresh chopped herbs. Spread between two pieces of 100 mile bread from a bread affair. For added crunch, chop up celery and mix or a favourite crisp vegetable from your local farmers market. You may also want to add cheese from your local dairy producer and sour cream can be used in place of mayonnaise.

A salad can be made using your favourite greens and for a dressing, drizzle on vinaigrette made from local vinegar and hazelnut oil (Canadian hazelnut). For more flavour, add fresh herbs.

Snack– Hard-boiled egg and local crackers. Eggs can be found at many farms in Maple Ridge and Abbotsford. Bradner Farms and Rabbit River Farms are two brands found in grocery stores. Local crackers from Nichol fine foods are a great choice, or try making homemade crackers using ground wheat berries, egg whites and some hazelnuts mixed up and baked until crisp.

Dinner

Grilled chicken burgers, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes

Grill up some local chicken breasts and serve on crispy, thick cut 100 mile bread. Add a few slices of local bacon, cheese and fresh vegetables. For a chicken marinade, mix some honey, cilantro leaves and garlic and brush onto chicken. Boil up corn ears and rub on fresh butter mixed with chopped chives.

Day Two

Breakfast

Toast and hazelnut butter

Toast up some 100 mile bread and spread hazelnut butter from Poplar Grove Arbour. You can make fresh hazelnut butter yourself by taking hazelnuts and grinding them up in a high-powered blender. They release their natural oils which creates a thick delicious butter. Pour up a glass of fresh milk and a cup of local berries to complete the meal.

Snack

Fresh vegetables and dip

Make a dip from sour cream and fresh dill and serve with fresh-cut veggies.

Lunch

Lettuce wraps

Sauté or grill up fresh vegetables, along with strips of chicken or beef. Using fresh herbs like cilantro and garlic will give a Thai-inspired taste. Spoon your sauté into leaves of lettuce and roll up. These can be pre-made for an on-the-go lunch, all you need to do is roll up the lettuce wraps right before your about to enjoy them.

Snack

A bowl of creamy Greek yogurt with one apple grated into it.

Dinner

Meatballs and Panzanella salad

Mixing local ground beef with breadcrumbs from 100 mile bread, eggs and some of your favorite fresh herbs, create delicious meatballs. Tomatoes are in season and can be made into a rich tomato sauce, with a splash of local wine and your choice of cheese.

Serve meatballs alongside a Panzanella salad. This salad uses a twist on the traditional recipe. Toast up your 100 mile bread, cube and toss in hazelnut oil. Combine your homemade croutons with local vinegar, basil leaves, chopped up crisp peppers, cucumber and tomatoes. Add your choice of cheese, or mozzarella if you find it.

Dessert

For a treat, make homemade meringues: whip local egg whites, mix with honey and bake. Serve with fresh macerated berries and drizzle with honey and crisp hazelnuts

Hungry yet? Happy Challenge, everyone!

 

 

DIY Fresh…Polenta Fries and BC Cherry Catsup

There are few Canadian food combinations as classic as fries and ketchup unless, of course, you grew up eating mayo with your fries like I did. Us ‘mayo folk’ can’t understand the sweetness – commercial ketchup has always struck me as an oddly sweet and sour paste. Of course, ketchup lovers tend to look at us pouring rich, white mayo over fries like we are on the next ambulance to a triple bypass.

However, quite a few years back now, I was enlightened on the ketchup front by the banana catsup and masala fries served by my once favourite, now defunct restaurant, Monsoon. This was a magical blend of sweet and savoury and the banana flavour, which you would expect to be strange, was transcendent. Not too sweet, balanced acidity (but not sour) and plenty of spice. Oh, how I miss that snack! And the mango cocktails…but I digress.

Another favourite Main St haunt, the Cascade Room, introduced me to the marvels of polenta fries. Crisp on the outside, creamy (and solar hot!) on the inside. They serve theirs with a curried mayo and well, probably deep fry that goodness. Heather and I thought we could take another turn on the catsup train with one of the most luscious fruits of the summer: cherries. So this, our first DIY Fresh post is all about making a classic (but typically lifeless and over processed) food pairing and making it fresh, healthy and exciting. Heather has created a sweet and spicy catsup and I had some fun serving up polenta fries. Talk about a perfect pair!

Polenta Fries, Two Ways, with BC Cherry Catsup

Basic Polenta

1 cup organic corn polenta
3 cups of water
1/2 tsp sea salt

butter or olive oil for greasing pans

Parmesan Sage Variation

1/4 cup shredded fresh sage
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste

Pistachio Vanilla Variation

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1/4 tsp freshly scraped vanilla bean paste
1 – 2 tbsp honey, depending on desired sweetness

To make the polenta, you’ll need a strong arm or a companion with a strong arm. Ply them with wine as they toil away. As an Italian chef friend taught me, most of us seriously undercook our polenta. Those 5 minute recipes? Sacrilege! You gotta work! 

Line an 8 x 8 baking dish with parchment down the centre and across two sides and grease with olive oil or butter, as desired.

In a large pasta pot, stir polenta, water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly to a rapid simmer and stir the heck out of the polenta with the longest spoon you have until fully cooked and very thick, about 25 – 30 minutes. Don’t stop stirring – it will stick and burn. Watch out for the angry corn grits as they spit and pop.

Stir your selected seasonings through the polenta. Pour the polenta into the greased, lined pan as evenly as possible. Allow to cool for a minute or two and when it is touchable, rub hands with either butter or oil and coax the polenta into an even, flat shape. Allow to cool further and then chill for at least one hour or overnight (make ahead alert!).

When chilled, turn out onto a cutting board and then cut polenta into quarters (4 even squares). Cut each square into 4 fries to make 16 fries.

To cook, you have two options. Hmm…polenta fries two ways with two ways to cook? Technically, that is polenta fries 4 ways!

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place polenta fries on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake until golden brown and crispy, turning once halfway through (about 15 minutes a side). If the fries aren’t crisped enough, they can break as you flip them – watch out.

2. In a large frying pan, pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan by a few millimetres. Heat oil over medium high and when hot enough (touch a fry to the pan and if it bubbles, it’s ready) place half the polenta fries in the pan. Don’t overcrowd. Cook until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes then turn over and cook. Keep fries hot in the oven at 200°F until ready to serve.

BC Cherry Catsup
makes 1-1/2 cups.
4 cups sweet BC cherries (about 1-1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp shallot or red onion, finely minced
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ancho chili pepper or cayenne pepper

Pit cherries and measure 4 cups of fruit. Place cherries and all other ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until fruit is tender, about 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool.
Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until fairly smooth. Cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or fill in canning jars and process in a water bath.

The Fresh Sheet…Apricots

When you think of summer fruit, a handful of more popular treats usually come to mind – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches…not many people tend to dwell on apricots. But I can’t get enough of them. I like them when they are just a touch tart. Sure, the perfume is nowhere near as heady; however, tart, firm apricots suit my too-impatient-to-ripen mindset. I fell in love with apricots long before I starting thinking about local food.

Now, when I go to the farmer’s markets (or my favourite local grocer), I don’t have to wait. They are succulent and perfectly ripe as I pluck them from my shopping bag on the walk home. Apricots are in season right now – don’t miss them! Of course, I still like a tart apricot every now and then. Amazingly, I have discovered a way to have the best of both worlds: ripe apricots roasted to sweet-tart perfection with a bit of lime juice. Apricots aren’t just delicious…they are also wonderfully nutritious. High in beta-carotene and vitamin C, apricots will help to support healthy skin, eyes and a strong immune system. They are even a source of sleep-inducing tryptophan. So if you are feeling drowsy on a lazy summer day, it might be the sun…or it could be the apricots. Sounds like exactly the kind of debate to have over an apricot bellini…

Summer calls for light, produce-forward foods but it doesn’t mean dinner need be light on flavour. This rather loose interpretation of the taco (well, it is in a tortilla!) is the perfect way to celebrate Food Day Canada. Full of local flavours, accented by a few friendly imports, this is the perfect light meal for patio sitting with friends.

Cumin Tofu Tacos with Apricot Lime Salsa

Serves 4

8 apricots, cut in half, stones removed (or roast up a huge batch because these are transcendent with vanilla ice cream)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, divided, plus wedges for serving
Almond oil, or another neutral high heat oil, for drizzling

1 350g package organic extra firm tofu
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp – 1/4 hot paprika, to taste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
1 handful pea shoots

8 small white corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place apricots, cut side up, in a small baking dish and drizzle with a bit of almond oil and lime juice. Place in oven and roast for 20 minutes for still-firm apricots or 30 minutes for molten, gooey ones. You aren’t trying to get a full caramelization, just to intensify the flavours. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix cumin, cinnamon, salt, paprika and olive oil with 1 tsp of the lime juice. Slice tofu block in half to produce 2 squares and then slice squares in half through the centre, horizontally, to produce 4 thinner squares. Rub with spice mixture and set aside.

Make Ahead: Roast the apricots and marinade the tofu the morning or night before!

When the apricots are finished, increase oven temperature to 375. Bake tofu for 15 minutes a side, until tofu is starting to crisp up slightly on edges.

Make the apricot salsa: place apricots in a bowl with onions, cilantro, a drizzle of almond oil and a tablespoon of lime juice. Mix through gently to combine or a little more vigorously to create more of a sauce consistency.

When the tofu is cooked, slice each square to make 6 strips. Assemble the tacos: place a small bunch of pea shoots on each tortilla, followed by a scoop of the apricot salsa, a slice of avocado and 3 tofu strips. Serve with a wedge of lime for squeezing.

Happy Food Day, Canada!

 

Fresh Sheet…Asparagus

Nothing says spring like the earthy, sweet taste of asparagus. These brave spears burst through the soil as the weather warms, unlike the shyly unfurling fiddlehead or the quietly persisting leafy greens.  Their flavour and delicate crunch awakens our palettes, lulled into submission by an endless parade of root veggies. Their very green-ness makes me ever more excited for all the tasty treats to come.

Like many greens, asparagus is rich in folate for a healthy nervous system and vitamin K for healthy blood clotting and strong bones. However, asparagus is also a good source of glutathione, which is a energizing anti-oxidant. No matter how nutritious asparagus may be, it is the sheer pleasure of eating it that excites us again and again.

To buy asparagus, look for bright green stalks and tightly closed tips. The stalks should be straight and firm with minimal white ends. That bargain asparagus in the supermarket? By the time you snap off all the woody end, it isn’t such a bargain. When you can find it, hand-harvested asparagus will be all tender stalk, the perfect showpiece for your spring feast. Store fresh asparagus by wrapping the bottom of the stalks in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag. Use within a day or two as asparagus degrades quickly.

To use, snap off the end where it naturally breaks and rinse well. Asparagus is delicious grilled, roasted, sautéed or when it is really fresh, in a beautiful salad. We also published a delicious asparagus risotto recipe earlier this spring. Enjoy!

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Beets and Hazelnuts

This salad is spring on a plate. The subtle sweetness of local asparagus (don’t bother with this recipe out of season!) paired with the earthiness of fresh thyme, a bright splash of citrus and rich hazelnuts is delivers all that is best about the season.

Serves 2 or 4 as appetizers

1 lb local asparagus, washed (do not trim dry ends)
1 lg (or 2 small) beets, peeled and trimmed
1/2 c hazelnuts
1 cup chèvre or 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (optional)
1 tbsp lemon zest

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste

To shave asparagus, start by snapping off the heads of asparagus and setting aside. Keep dry ends so you have a handle for shaving – don’t use in salad. Use a very sharp peeler and, holding on to dry end, peel thin ribbons off the asparagus. The longer the asparagus is, the more the ribbons will turn out like pasta. Set aside.

Use the peeler to shave beet ribbons or use a spiral mandolin to make long, spaghetti-like strands. Arrange the asparagus, beets, cheese (if using) and hazelnuts on plate. Sprinkle lemon zest over the veggies.

Meanwhile, shake up remaining ingredients in a jam jar and pour over salads. You may make the dressing ahead of time but the salad is best prepared fresh.